Richard Carpenter, who died this week, wrote and adapted some seminal TV programmes for more than 35 years, many of which have now been re-released to a new generation on DVD. In this article originally published in issue 15 in 2005, and slightly amended, John Connors looks at his career from Catweazle to I Was a Rat.
Richard Carpenter was born in 1933 in Kings Lynn in Norfolk and as he grew up became a great fan of seemingly opposite ends of the creative world; he loved comics but also Shakespeare while `The Beano` shared his reading time with tales from Greek mythology. It is easy to see how such disparate influences would later shape his writing and help him combine simple plotting with strong characters and a sense of history that grounded them. He went to the Old Vic Theatre School and learned the acting trade in repertory theatre going on to spend years as a jobbing actor appearing in many well known television series of the 1950s and 60s including Hancock’s Half Hour, The Strange Report, Knight Errant, The Baron, Dixon of Dock Green and Z Cars. During this time he started to write short stories for radio and having experienced life in front of the camera, his writing was actor driven something that shows strongly in all his key series.
Carpenter later admitted that it was his own experience of receiving scripts that didn’t sparkle which encouraged him to write his own. As well as the childhood influences and his history as an actor, Carpenter thrived on certain limitations, which by chance would probably suit television’s budgetary considerations. “I always try and limit the number of characters I use” he said “because the more you limit it the more you are thrown back into interrelating those characters in an interesting way. Ultimately it isn't stories that are important, its characters, the way they react and the way that particular writer scripts that particular situation. Because all situations are common to drama, there are millions of the same situations appearing again and again, but it's the way the writer tackles it that makes it unique and gives it a stamp of personality.”